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The Lure of Speed

If in reading this section it sounds like I’m trying to talk you out of attempting performance improvements it could be because that’s exactly what I am trying to do (sort of).  At a minimum I want the reader to carefully consider any attempt at performance improvement before moving forward.

 If you’re like me, it’s hard to look at a third generation Camaro and not think about making it go faster.  After all, who doesn’t want a fast car?  In my case, however, I have put the restriction on myself that the car must remain street legal as well as “streetable”.  By streetable I mean a couple things.  First, it means that the exhaust must be quiet enough to pass a police officer without getting pulled over.  Second, it means I have no plans on tearing out the interior in the interest of saving a couple of pounds.  Lately and most important is that I can drive it like any other street car and not worry about needing special fuel or overheating in traffic.

A 1992 Camaro RS isn’t a bad performing car in stock trim; however it is hardly what you would call “fast” either.  In completely stock trim, I would be surprised if you could manage an eighth mile ET of much less than 10 seconds (I know I'd be tickled with a 9.99 eighth mile et).  Mine came equipped from the factory with a 305 cubic inch L03 throttle body injected engine that is rated at 170 hp.  The engine is mated to a GM TH-700R4 Automatic Overdrive transmission.  The rear end (probably the weakest link) is a 2.73 7.5 inch open rear with 28 spline axles (better than the 26 spline axles or earlier years!). 

A quick side note about the Throttle Body Injection.  This induction system is often maligned by enthusiasts.  I feel they are being a little unfair.  The hard fact is that GM never really intended this to be a true “high performance” system.  It is, however, a durable and reliable system that was used for many years on everything from Camaro’s to Vans to Light Trucks.  I had a similar TBI on my 1993 Chevy Van that was equipped with a 350 and got over 10 years and 160,000 miles of excellent service.  The only reason I got rid of the van was because of issues with the body, not the engine (which continued to run strong for several years for a friend who I sold the van to).  While these units are dependable, it is true that they don’t allow much too room for performance improvement.  It is possible to use different size injectors however.  You certainly can’t use a 425 hp 350 in place of the  170 hp 305 and install the same TBI and expect any sort of improvement.  That doesn't mean that you can't use a 350 in place of the 305 if your 305 craps out; it just means that you have to carefully consider the whole engine swap and match the engine specs to your existing induction system.

A big problem is that these cars are HEAVY (capital letters intended to indicate shouting!).  The factory curb weight is around 4000 pounds.  That means that with my 175 pound frame sitting in the car it probably still tips the scales around 3400 pounds.  There is a lot of metal on these vehicles.

A quick word of warning here:  The main problem with performance modifications is that if you just focus on increasing horsepower and torque, you will start to break things further down the drive line, starting with the TH-700R4 transmission.  Before doing anything to the car you must consider how it is going to impact all aspects of the vehicle’s operation.

Another problem is that you can literally spend thousands of dollars and really get very little in return.  Since I really don’t have thousands of dollars to just throw away, I need to really be very thoughtful before undergoing any modifications.

In fact, before performing and modifications strictly in the name of “performance”, I think it is imperative to have the vehicle in tip top “stock” operating condition.  Once this is achieved, you have a good baseline to judge just how well any modification worked (or didn’t!).

So - Let’s assume you have a car that is operating in tip top factory condition.  There are literally almost an unlimited number of modifications that can be done in the name of performance.  You need to be careful because you can spend a small fortune and really get very little in return.

The Suspension

Before doing anything, the vehicle’s suspension should be in tip top condition (if it sounds like I am repeating myself its because I am).  A quick glance at any high performance parts catalog will find all types of aftermarket suspension parts.  For a third generation Camaro you can get from the aftermarket front control arms, rear trailing arms, panhard bar, trick springs and shocks and subframe connectors.  These parts might shave hundredths of seconds off a quarter mile time and can cost hundreds (or in total, thousands) of dollars.  Out of all the available upgrades, I feel the most desirable suspension upgrade that is the installation of subframe connectors.  Unibody cars tend to flex a lot and stiffening up the vehicle can only help with performance.  Bolt in subframe connectors can be had for around 200 bucks which is even better.  Of course, I have looked at aftermarket subframe connectors and think it would be possible to fabricate them myself probably for a fraction of the cost.

One note about subframe connectors; they will definitely make the ride of any unibody vehicle substantially firmer.  In fact, if they DON’T stiffen up the ride you probably didn’t install them correctly!  While the ride may become a little harsher, I do not consider any of these additions to really adversely affect streetablility.

The Rear End

This is certainly the weakest part of the drive line in a third generation Camaro.  Of course, you could just go out and buy a bolt in Ford 9 inch and be “bulletproof”.  Doing that would set you back around 2500 dollars though.  Since the most powerful engine I would ever put in the car would make around 250 hp at the rear wheels, this is a bit of overkill.  The open rear is a bit of a problem.  There are plenty of options in the 500 dollar range to fix this.  There are plenty of aftermarket posi traction units available from outfits like Auburn Gear.  While these may be a bit of a pain to install, they will easily handle the type of power that I am talking about ever putting into the car.  Of course, there is also the option of trying to find a rear end from a Z-28 and swapping out the existing rear end.  If you are going to go this way, I would strongly consider going to the salvage yard and obtaining a rear end from another Camaro.  This way you can do all your work off the vehicle and when you are satisfied that everything is right, simply swap rear ends.

Again, no change of this sort to the rear end will have an adverse effect on streetability.

People shouldn’t be too concerned about the fairly high 2.73 rear end gear; coupled with the 3.08 first gear in the TH-700R4, this gives a starting ratio of 8.40 which is pretty good for a heavy car although if you do something with the rear end, going up into the 3's isn't a bad idea.

The Transmission

There is nothing "wrong" with a TH-700R4 transmission.  They just weren’t built to take huge amounts of torque however.  In stock trim I would limit horsepower to around 250.  Of course, you can have the unit beefed up by a professional to handle considerable amounts of torque and horsepower.  I would not recommend running out and having anything done to your transmission unless you are having some trouble. 

You have a couple choices here.  You can take the tranny out of your car yourself or have it done by the repair shop.  My decision would be based almost entirely on cost.  If your car has become inoperable, you have to factor in the cost of having it towed to a repair shop.  Any way you slice it, a 700R4 rebuild is going to set you back over a 1000 bucks easy.  I have never done any transmission work preferring leaving the job to the pros, but if my 700R4 does eventually give out, I am strongly considering trying to rebuild it myself. 

The Engine

Coaxing a little more power out of a 305 cid Chevy engine isn’t all that hard.  The question is always is it worth it or not.  The camshafts in most of these engines are very conservative.  Comp Cams actually grinds a cam specifically for the 305 TBI that will work with the stock computer and fuel injection.  The entire cam kit consisting of cam, lifters, valve springs, seals, new timing chain, etc will set you back around 700 bucks.  Here’s the issue – you have to take an engine out of a car like this to change the camshaft.  If you are going to take the L03 305 engine out of the vehicle, my advice would be not to put it back it.  Instead you can replace it with a modest 350.  250 hp out of a 350 is nothing and with some slight modifications the vehicle can easily handle it.

 Exhaust Modifications

There is no question that these cars have a fairly restrictive factory exhaust system.  It is probably the number one "killer" of power in a stock vehicle.  The problem with aftermarket systems is noise.  An aftermarket cat back system will set you back several hundred buck and that's if you install it yourself.  Take it in to a shop and you're looking at 500+ easily with no guarentee of anything other than a cooler sounding car.

How About Nitrous?

I have just one thing to say regarding nitrous oxide – think real hard before you get into it!  I have plenty of experience with nitrous oxide.  It is HARD on your equipment (and subsequently hard on your wallet too).  Don’t think for a minute you can add a kit and only jet it for 50 hp (which would be no problem).  This stuff is like crack.  Humor me with a nitrous story:

 I had a 1985 Camaro with a 305.  I replaced the cam with a Comp Cams 268H kit and put a Holley 1850 carburetor on top of a Holley dual plane intake.  I then added a 125 hp NOS “Super Powershot” system.  The result was a 12.69 quarter mile time – with a 305! (I had dialed a 12.99 and knew early on I was way under but I stayed in it for the time – the track announcer thought my opponent had broken!). Unfortunately along the way I broke a torque converter and really stressed out the engine.

Putting the Car on a Diet

It’s no secret that weight will slow you down.  The problem is that there isn’t a lot of “fat” on one of these cars.  For example, a fiberglass hood will shed about 60 pounds – for over 500 dollars.  No thanks – you can put that poor old 500 to much better use.  You can also get fiberglass replacement panels for several other parts of the car.  Again – they can get downright expensive.

How about aluminum wheels?  They will certainly cut weight, but lightweight aluminum wheels should be considered a drag race only item.  This is especially true with “front runners” (very narrow front wheels).  I have raced with them and if you get a little sideways they are a handful.

 How about the interior?  Unless the interior of your vehicle is completely trashed, tearing it out to save less than a hundred pounds is foolish.  Replacing the factory seats with aftermarket rotationally molded seats is one good option, particularly if the factory seats are in lousy condition.

Of course, there are some free ways to shed weight if you are at the drag strip.  Consider the fuel tank - a gallon of gasoline weighs around 6 pounds.  If you can make the car hook with only a couple gallons in the tank that can save 60 or more pounds.  Leave the spare and the jack in the pits.  75 or 80 pounds might not sound like much, but that amount of weight is worth in the neighborhood of .05 - .07 seconds.  Perhaps not a lot but if it's the difference between 10.02 and 9.98 it sure seems like a ton.  What makes this the best is that the cost is zero!

 Bottom Line

As you can see from this very brief intro there are plenty of ways to try and coax a little more speed out of one of these TBI equipped third generation Camaros.  You can spend literally thousands of dollars and get very little in return.  Unless you are going to really go all out, most of these lures are better off left undone!

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